Unitarian Universalist Congregation
of Northern Chautauqua

companionship on life's sacred journey

Welcoming the (Young) Stranger

February 2019

From the Heart

One of my heroes from the Universalist part of our tradition is Reverend Angus MacLean. Angus was a Canadian Presbyterian minister who had served in the front lines in the First World War. He found himself questioning his own religious beliefs because of the horrors he encountered in the trenches.

Searching for deeper answers, during the 1920s Angus signed up for a Doctoral Program at the Columbia University in New York City. For his doctoral thesis, he studied how children in New York City churches were learning about God. He compared what the churches said they wanted to convey with the children’s actual understanding of the Divine.

He found a huge gap between the children’s actual ideas and feelings about God and the feelings and ideas the congregations’ adult leaders and teachers were hoping to pass on. Most significantly for our liberal religious tradition, he found that the gap was just as large in liberal congregations as it was in more conservative ones.

This was a fascinating result for Angus and sparked a lifelong study of the process of liberal religious education. His thesis work gave him data to support his growing sense that the process of religious learning is very individual and arises from life experience much more than formal schooling. It is in fact not wise to try to instruct children about the nature of God.

His teaching and writing provide much of the foundation for our current-day Unitarian Universalist approach to religious exploration and faith formation.

I will be expanding on this in a February 24 sermon entitled “Welcoming the (Young) Stranger” – so named because the young folks among us need warm heartfelt welcomes much more than they need us to be instructors.

In faith and love,
Reverend George

© 2019 Reverend George Buchanan

We Need To Talk!

January 2019

From the Heart

“We need to talk!” Most of us have heard this, at one time or another – coming from someone who is upset. How do we handle this in our congregational life?

Here’s a partial answer using an example. Imagine a congregant – let’s call her Sally – who is uncomfortable with what I said in a sermon about racial justice. She approaches me – the minister – at coffee hour and says: “We need to talk!”

The healthy response from me is to offer Sally a chance to talk in person, either immediately or at the earliest time available. Ideally, I listen to Sally’s concerns with an open heart, and we both come away with a deeper understanding of one another. As well, I might decide to take further action based on what I learned – maybe another sermon offering further refinement, or a newsletter column, or a further talk with Sally.

All this – Sally opening the dialog and my response – are part of healthy congregational life if done effectively. Our ideal of a healthy congregation is NOT one where we all agree about everything. Rather, we strive to deal with our disagreements in a healthy, open way.

It’s also possible Sally will bring a friend with her – let’s call him Bob. Bob says something like:

“George, Sally has an important concern she wants to talk with you about.” This happens because Sally is not feeling confident about approaching me alone.

And this, too, is healthy. We often need to talk to a third person first before we approach a friend who upset us. Sometimes we need that third person to walk with us to help begin the dialog.

I hope and pray I – and others in our congregation – will continue to respond in this healthy way when we disagree. I say this recognizing my human weakness and past mistakes, in the hope that others will gently and firmly let me know when I might have missed the mark.

In love,
Reverend George Buchanan

© 2019 Reverend George Buchanan

Keep To Our Promises

December 2018

From the Heart

We are often encouraged to “keep our promises.” In this one particular case, I encourage folks to “keep to our promises.”

I am talking here about the mutual promises and commitments we make when we connect ourselves to our Unitarian Universalist congregations. We bundle these promises together and call them “covenants.”

I encourage us to “keep to” such covenants because we recognize our own imperfection in keeping to the letter and spirit. We will miss the mark in small – and sometimes large – ways.

Rather than kicking ourselves around in shame about our failures, we are called to forgive ourselves – and others. Then we acknowledge our mistakes and get on with the work of community. A covenant is not a brittle, fragile thing that shatters under stress. Better to think of a covenant as a woven fabric with lots of give and room for patches and repairs.

On the afternoon of Sunday December 9, we will host a workshop to consider our own Covenant of Right Relations in this light. I hope many of you will be able to attend.

Reverend George

© 2018 Reverend George Buchanan

Refined Intuition

November 2018

From the Heart

You’ve heard people say: “Trust your gut” or “Follow your Heart.” And I believe there is deep wisdom here, particularly in religious matters. When we use these terms, we are talking about our feelings and our intuition. And the religious life, properly defined, is about feelings and intuition.

Now this reliance on intuition does not rest easy with many Unitarian Universalists, and I share some of this unease. Our religious communities put strong emphasis on the use of reason and science – and quite rightly so.

For me, the way through any concerns here is to rely on what philosopher John Dewey calls “refined intuition.” Dewey urges us to subject our intuitions to careful consideration and reflection.

I recently experienced a great example of this refined intuition. I was in a workshop about spiritual practices and I had a chance to try out a form of what is called “lectio divina.” In this exercise, I consider a passage of scripture – reading it through several times and in different ways. I then notice the words and phrases that resonate most deeply for me. Here’s how one author describes the next steps:

“What thoughts come up as you think about these words? How do they move you? What can they teach you? Really let them sink in as you contemplate them. Is there something you can learn from these words that you can incorporate into your life or your practice?”

In this, I use my intuition to notice what seems to resonate. And then I use my reason and understanding to learn from the experience of this reading – to refine my intuition.

So be willing to stop and pay attention when your gut or your heart seem to resonate with a text, or a part of your lived experience. There may be something deep and important waiting for you there.

Love to all,
Reverend George Buchanan

© 2018 Reverend George Buchanan

Releasing the old, welcoming the new

October 2018

From the Heart

Alan Watts says:
“the desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath. A society based on the quest for security is nothing but a breath-retention contest in which everyone is as taut as a drum and as purple as a beet.”

There is deep wisdom here. If we hold something tightly because it helps us feel secure, we risk losing the very thing we value. This is certainly true of our breath. We each want to keep breathing, and so we have learned to release each old breath and welcome the new one.

Or consider a child we care for and care about. There is the old saying, “If you truly love someone, you must be ready to let them go.” Children are growing and changing and inevitably moving away from us in so many ways. If we understand our love for them fully, we learn to accept growth and change. We know this is the way of things.

Part of our individual religious process is sorting through what we value and seeking out what we find most trustworthy and important. We learn to let our breathing and our loving relationships flow and move.

And still we seek the deeper patterns behind this flow of life. We end up with terms like “God” and “Tao” and “Enlightenment” and “Love.” There may be some security here. But life moves on and we still have questions.

On October 14 I’ll be digging more into the wisdom of Alan Watts. We’ll look at some of the answers he proposes to the deep questions that still remain in our hearts; we’ll consider how his answers might help.

Love to All.
Reverend George Buchanan

© 2018 Reverend George Buchanan

Radical Hope

September 2018

From the Heart

Recently I’ve used words like this to open worship for our Unitarian Universalist congregation:

“Welcome to this, our community of radical hope. Here we hope and pray for the Beloved Community – a world made fair with all her people free. We strive to realize this in our own lives, in our presence with one another, and in the broader communities around us.”

This hope I speak of is “radical” in the original Latin sense of the word. To take a radical approach to something means to get at the root of it, or to deal with the fundamentals of it.

This radical hope is religious, because we are considering the roots of what is most deeply and fundamentally worthy of our loyalty and commitment. This is so whether we are committed to God, or Goddess, or the Tao, or Truth, or Justice, or one of many other expressions of the fundamental. We are willing to set aside lesser things, if needed, for the sake of our deepest commitments.

What is radical hope like? Well, many Unitarian Universalists have come to our congregations from different religious traditions. These searchers were and are motivated by one form of radical hope – the hope that a community might exist consistent with their beliefs.

Or consider the process of becoming a Welcoming Congregation in our faith. This is a congregational process grounded in radical hope for communities open to all, no matter whom they love or how they identify their gender.

There are lots of other examples of ways we can live in radical hope. In the coming year I will be exploring different aspects of radical hope, in sermons, in workshops, and in our lives together.

You can learn more about radical hope here.

Love to all,
Reverend George Buchanan

© 2018 Reverend George Buchanan

Minister Messages from 2017 - 2018